“So, where’s the hotels around here?”
This was the question posed to me one afternoon by two-middle aged French women… who spoke no Arabic… were in the downtown area of Amman, Jordan… as it was getting dark. “Oh, and by the way, how far is it to the Dead Sea; could we make it by dark?”
Later that trip I ran into two young women from Belgium at the Wadi Mujib biosphere by the Dead Sea. The two were totally unaware that a conflict was brewing in southern Jordan. The tribes in the city of Ma’an, were burning tires in the roads, looting, setting up roadblocks etc. The girls altered their route to avoid Ma’an, but could’ve been in for some serious surprises had they not known.
What do these folks all have in common? They didn’t plan ahead: If it’s getting dark and you don’t speak the language or have a hotel, you did not plan ahead. If you’re already in country and have no idea what there is to see, you will probably miss out on a lot. If you are about to wander into a potentially deadly conflict, you definitely did not do your homework. You only get so much vacation – make the most of it, don’t spend it dealing with preventable hassles.
Don’t get me wrong – I love to plan last minute trips (thank you Skyscanner!). Adding a few quick searches online can save a lot of trouble once you’re in country and on the road. Here’s the top of my pre-trip checklist:
- Understand what you’re getting into – Buy a travel guide, see what there is to do/see and which areas to avoid. The US State Department website issues travel advisories as well as the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
- Know if you need a visa. Some countries allow you to purchase visas at the airport when you arrive (Tanzania). There are only ~50 countries which require visas of U.S. citizens. Don’t get turned away at the airport before you even leave for not having one.
- Be aware of when your passport expires. Most countries will not allow you in if there are six months or less left on your passport.
- Shotcard: Have one and keep it up to date, pay special attention to the requirements of the country you’re visiting. You may get in, but the US may require you get a shot before letting you on the plane back home.
- Check the holiday calendar: Ever travel during Ramadan? Show up in country during a national holiday? It complicates things; things like eating or seeing monuments. Time and date has a pretty comprehensive calendar, otherwise I do a Google search.
- P’s and Q’s: Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands has proved useful in some situations, but a travel guide will typically keep you aware of local customs and cultural norms. When in doubt, ask a local. They will appreciate your interest in their culture.